We all know that Peter was the first pope. What we often forget is that Peter was also a terrible sinner. I can think of at least five times in the Gospels where Peter messed up; but the time that he denied Jesus was the absolute worst.
St. Matthew tells us that it was a maid who first approached Peter in the courtyard. The maid recognized Peter as a friend of Jesus, but Peter denied knowing him. Then, another girl—not a woman, but a girl—saw Peter and said, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.” Again, Peter denied it. The third time St. Matthew tells us that it was some bystanders who recognized Peter as a friend of Jesus by his speech. And once more, Peter denied knowing Jesus.
That’s about as bad as it gets. Just when your best friend needs you most, you deny even knowing him. And it’s not as if those questioning him were all that intimidating—a maid, a girl, and a group of bystanders—people who wouldn’t seem to be much of a threat to a future pope. And Peter knew it. St. Matthew tells us that upon the cock’s crow, “Peter went out and began to weep bitterly” (Matt. 26:75). Earlier that night, Peter promised Jesus that his faith would never be shaken, but there it was, a crumbled mess. And there he was, the one who Jesus had handpicked to be the fearless leader of the Apostles, off in the corner weeping.